“The Last Green Thing in the World” (Not Your Typical Green Article)


Another wonderfully insightful piece by Anthony Esolen over at the blog for our sister publication, Touchstone. I am posting the first two paragraphs here, but I highly recommend reading the rest over at Mere Comments. It is a great reflection on community, relationships, family and sex in our culture.

At lunch the other day, a young adjunct in my department, whom I was meeting for the first time, said a few things that showed a remarkable insight into the loneliness of modern life. He reminded me that C. S. Lewis had noted that in the late Middle Ages, after the climate had gone bad, people fantasized about food — almost, you might say, pornographically. Certainly in a bawdy poem like The Land of Cockaygne there’s more voluptuous fascination expended upon roast geese flying through the air, and things like that, than upon nuns and monks ready to go at it. But it is hard to find, in all of medieval literature, a reference to someone’s being lonely. Life was too full of the proximate bodiliness of other people. Besides, even in bad times, you had your family, your neighbors, your guild, and your church.

My companion said that he thought that the emphasis upon sex in our own time is a function of our alienation, one from another. He didn’t know it perhaps, but he was picking up on something that Josef Pieper said about eros in Faith, Hope, Love. Pieper, like Gabriel Marcel and Romano Guardini, decried the regimentation and institutionalization of modern life; its substitution of the weekend and the vacation for the holiday; its hatred both of solitude and of community, giving us instead the loneliness and anonymity of the crowd, the functionality of the workplace, and the false celebration of the debauch. Pieper said that in such a world, man will inevitably look to eros as “the last green thing,” the last hope for truly human contact. Strangely enough, we were then joined by another member of my department, an observant but politically liberal Jew, who got to talking about Aristophanes, and how in The Acharnians the playwright sets up sex — the pleasure of my own body — as the last frontier not conquered by state control.

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4 thoughts on ““The Last Green Thing in the World” (Not Your Typical Green Article)

  1. A minor point I’m making here…
    Quote “it is hard to find, in all of medieval literature, a reference to someone’s being lonely. Life was too full of the proximate bodiliness of other people…” Central Heating has changed some of our relationships!
    Even maybe half or three quarters of a century ago, people might have shared a bed with a sibling…it was because energy was expensive (sometimes it was coal shoveled in by the dad)—
    Imagine how people today might misinterpret short movies where you see Larry Moe & Curly (or Shemp) jammed into one bed.
    Probably kids, relations shared beds back then in a NON sexual way because they were COLD! It still was a form of contact not as common today when our houses are warmer at nite & when we have more private space.

  2. Yes, people did sleep together … But before the global cooling set in, around 1300, and probably for a while after that, people also slept naked. You don’t see many references to that habit in the coldish 19th century.
    I think it would astonish us to experience the vibrancy of village life in the Middle Ages. I’m told that in parts of the world that sort of life still exists: the Philippines, Nigeria, etc. Part of me believes that western secularism must die, if only because it leaves people with half a brain, half a heart, and half a life, only with twice as many years to live it in…

  3. I guess it’s a good thing then that western secularism is anything but self-sustaining or self-replicating. Although it does do a good job at dominating higher (and lower) educational institutions these days. I sure would like to see that climate change.

  4. I agree! The Malthus types don’t seem to want long term human thriving! And lots of them end up as profs!!!

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